The public relations industry has missed out on the opportunity created by Google during the last decade to help audiences find relevant content on the web.
Google created a business opportunity to develop web content around topics that an audience is searching for and to build relationships between web sites that publish content on related topics.
But despite a slew of free tools and data made available by Google, the public relations industry let the opportunity pass by and the search engine optimisation (SEO) industry, reckoned to be worth £500 million in the UK according to econsultancy, has emerged.
Second chance: Google+ and Author Rank
But Google has given the public relations industry a second chance. Changes to the search algorithm in the last 18 months or so, combined with Google+ and Author Rank, have created an opportunity ideally suited to the skills of the public relations industry.
The first key change to the Google search algorithm called Panda was rolled out in February 2011. It flushed out low quality content farms from search results. These were typically characterised by poorly written and often syndicated content.
Next was a social network called Google+. Launched in 2011 this is Google’s answer to Facebook and Twitter. But significantly it has been integrated directly into Google’s search algorithm.
Personalised search results
If you use Google+ and are logged into a browser when you make a search request, the default results that Google believes are most relevant. Content that previously may not have ranked highly now may well do so thanks to your Google+ relationships.
Google+ was followed in April this year by a second change to the Google algorithm called Penguin. This removed sites that had built their authority by building low quality spam links.
Google adds Author Rank
In the last few months we’ve seen the roll-out of a new mechanism that is already making a significant contribution to search results called Author Rank. This uses Google+ to assign a value to the credibility of an individual author on a topic.
Bauer Media’s James Carson gave an excellent seven-minute presentation on Author Rank at BrightonSEO in April.
I implemented Author Rank on my personal blog two weeks ago. This is a site that I rebuilt in September but is already hitting the first page of Google for searches on my name. Content from the blog appears in search results alongside my gravatar.
Each time I publish content on the web attributed to my Google+ account Google gets an indication of my expertise. Content and links continue to remain important for search but increasingly social signals and the credibility of an author will become a significant factor in search result.
That sounds a lot like public relations. Echerman’s Andrew Smith who has built a business around public relations, SEO and search agrees.
“I personally think that both Google+ and Author Rank are a big deal – however, I’ve made some big predictions about stuff in the past and been proved wrong – or rather I’ve underestimated the inertia in the public relations industry,” says Smith.
Opportunity for brands and individuals
The challenge for brands is that it ties content to individuals rather than organisations. But that’s also a great opportunity to help brands build personalities.
As a public relations practitioner you need to jump onto Google+ if you aren’t already and wherever possible ensure that content that you create on the web has an author tag.
Organisations need to implement Google+ sharing and implement author tags on their sites, and start building relationship with their audience online via Google+.
“Google wants to deliver relevant search results based on human trust and authority – using links to determine this trust and authority in the past was only a proxy for the real thing – incorporating social signals and assigning trust and authority of content based on people rather than a link is the way forward,” says Smith.
“It should play to traditional PR skills of quality content creation and quality relationship building – things the SEO sector hasn’t really had to think about in the past. Rather than devising clever ways to game the system, you need to find ways to build and communicate trust and authority – doesn’t that sound like what PR should always have been about?” adds Smith.
Google has given the public relations industry a second chance after it missed out on SEO. Whether it will grasp it is another thing entirely of course.
If you’ve read this far thank you! You might appreciate this related blog post: Why you need to use Google+: Author Rank and social search.
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